Brian Lindenmuth: What was the first tattoo you ever got and why did you decide to get it?
Chris Holm: My first tattoo was a Celtic circle on the inside of my right leg, a little ways above the ankle. Back in ’97, this was. I was nineteen. At the time, I would have told you I was getting it to honor my Irish and Scottish heritage, as well as my undergraduate infatuation with complexity theory. The truth is, I was a cautious kid who’d always had a fascination with tattoos. I thought that if I didn’t leap at the opportunity when it presented itself, I’d never get one—and Celtic blackwork was in vogue at the time.
What was that first experience like?
Bizarre. Hilarious. Terrifying in retrospect. A college friend (and, okay, drug dealer) who worked at a pizza place in town knew an ex-con whose tattoo guy made house calls. After some back and forth, me and four friends set up a tattoo party at the ex-con’s place—a shitty apartment above an Italian restaurant in a suburb of Utica, New York.
The artist was legit, thank god. An old-timer who learned his craft in the Navy and honed it tattooing on the Ringling Brothers train. He drew our designs on freehand, in Bic pen. I think mine cost me thirty bucks. It ain’t perfect, but twenty-odd years later, it’s still hanging in—and I’ll never cover it, because the story’s too good.
Tattoos can capture a memory, or are representative of a feeling or a person. What is your most meaningful tattoo, and why?
My wife and I have matching swallows, which are traditionally tattooed in pairs. Swallows mate for life, and although they often travel long distances, they always return home. As such, we kinda consider them our wedding tattoos. Each is incomplete without the other, and they represent our commitment to one another.
What was your last tattoo?
Last month, I got a traditional flower just below my swallow, along with a banner that reads Always. For the past couple years, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression, and I never would’ve gotten through it without Katrina’s support, so I suppose you could consider it a renewal of vows. I’d been pondering the tattoo for a while, but actually getting it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I was hanging out in a tattoo shop during a friend’s long sitting, and one of the other artists (who happens to specialize in traditional tattoos) had some unexpected free time. That makes it technically the only walk-in I’ve ever gotten, even though it’s still a custom piece.
When will you get your next one?
Beats me. Done right, tattoos are an expensive* habit, so Katrina and I generally take turns. Since I just got one, the next one’s all hers.
*Sidebar: When it comes to tattoos, you get what you pay for. If you’re considering one, do your research. Find an artist whose style you like. Instagram’s a great place to start. Set up a consult. Bring references. Listen to their input. And for god’s sake, don’t try to haggle with them.
Any tattoos you regret?
Nope. Every one of ’em was an experience, a mile marker, a happy memory. I did have one—a sugar skull—I wasn’t wild about in its original form, but I’ve since added to it, and now I like it quite a bit.
What do your tattoos say about you?
Honestly, I’m not sure. Each means something to me personally, as does the fact that I’m tattooed in general, but I can’t speak to what they say to others. Although they certainly suggest I’m not afraid of commitment.
How do others react to your tattoos?
I live in Portland, Maine, which is a pretty tattooed city, so I often forget that I’m also pretty tattooed. Sometimes, when I’m traveling, I’ll get a couple sideways glances, but by and large the response is overwhelmingly positive. My typewriter tattoo is always a hit at writing conferences. My black-and-gray elephant is most popular among random passersby.
What do tattoos bring to our culture?
Obviously, they’re a mode of self-expression. An outward reflection of the person wearing them, for good or ill. But they can also be a rite of passage, a rejection of the quotidian, an induction into a new tribe. There’s something beautifully savage and viscerally satisfying about marking one’s flesh. Maybe that’s why humankind’s been doing it for at least as long as the fossil record allows us to examine.
Do you have a go to tattoo person/shop? Give them a shout-out!
I’m probably rare among the (somewhat) heavily tattooed in that I could name each of the (seven) artists who’ve tattooed me. But Steve Chambers at Halcyon Tattoo in Windham, Maine and Doug Landry at Broken Crow Collective in Portland, Maine are my two go-tos. Both are insanely talented, and good guys, to boot. I’d let either of ’em jab me with needles anytime.
Bio: Chris Holm is the author of the Collector trilogy, which blends crime and fantasy, and the Michael Hendricks thrillers. His first Hendricks novel, THE KILLING KIND, was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Boston Globe Best Book of 2015, and Strand Magazine’s #1 Book of 2015. It won the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel, and was also nominated for a Barry, a Lefty, and a Macavity. His second Hendricks novel, RED RIGHT HAND, was named a Boston Globe Best Book of 2016 and nominated for the 2017 Anthony Award for Best Novel. Chris lives in Portland, Maine.